Legal Secretary, Election Commission of India
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi – 110001
Sub: Right to not vote: "all-of-these" not "none-of-these"
Ref: News report of PUCL PIL (“Voters can say ‘no’ on ballot papers: EC”1, ToI 25/01/2005); communications of 03-07/05/2004
Dear Mr Wilfred,
I am extremely surprised by the news report under reference since letter No.4/2004/JS-II dated 07/05/2004 from Mr S R Kar, Under Secretray, reproducing Rule 49 O of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, dealing with the option to not vote, had assured me that “From the above rule, it would be seen that for those electors who opt to refuse to vote, no specific provision is needed on the EVMs, as this is adequately covered in the rule.”
I am unable to see how electors who opt to “reject” all candidates deserve an anonymous option. For “the right to not vote” EVMs need at most an “Invalidate” option so that change in technology does not preclude the practice by which voters anonymously abstain (for any reason, not necessarily rejection of all candidates) while ensuring safety of their ballot. The “right to demonstrate through ballot against incapability of all the candidates” must (especially since all candidates are not even known to the average voter) be responsibly – not anonymously – exercised. The existing Refuse option (under Rule 49 O, prior to secret ballot) adequately allows responsible rejection, besides opportunity to sharply draw attention of “all-of-these” to issues that electors believe the political agenda is failing to capture. An anonymous “none-of-these” option, on the other hand, can at best fuzzily measure extent of discontent and can be potentially dangerous, culminating in rejection of democracy itself.
I believe that all that is needed (besides possibly the “Invalidate” option on EVM) is to popularise the Refuse option – perhaps by making it compulsory for it to be mentioned on campaign material – and procedures to ensure it can be unobtrusively exercised at the polling booth. Once that is done, it is reasonable to expect that candidates and parties will be willing (and unlike for anonymous “none-of-these” votes, also able) to heed Refuse votes. I contend that the Refuse option has not being adequately tried (ie, the lacuna is in implementation, not in the law) and unless the parties in this PIL can demonstrate otherwise, this contention cannot be rejected since it arises from (besides “participation” in the municipal election of 2002, when we were unaware of the Refuse option, through a proxy candidate to seek a vote for Delhi Master Plan) engagements on the Refuse option in the Lok Sabha election in 2004 (when the PIL had already been filed), as follows:
- On 03/05/20042 I wrote to CEC with reference to news reports and prior letters about EC “clearance” for Pushta clearance, “I do not wish to vote …I understand a Form 12-C available at the polling booth can be used in such cases and would appreciate information about it”
- (After searching for and finding on the web not Form-12C but Handbook for Presiding Officers in which Chapter XX, “Electors Deciding Not to Vote” says he shall not be forced or compelled to do so, the remark “Refused to Vote” shall be entered against his name with signature of Presiding Officer, and his signature or thumb impression shall also be obtained under rule 49 O) on 05/05/20043 I wrote, “It appears to me that we do have, individually, the right to responsibly not vote and, collectively, the right – or at least opportunity – to know how many of us exercised it” and sought clarifications
- After having spoken on 05/05/2004 from EC Reception to several persons who were not aware of this option before speaking with you, who confirmed it to me, and having come across a news report of the same day, quoting Deputy EC saying voters can “discard” their vote using Form-17A (which I found on the website is the register of voters) I wrote on 06/05/20044 to request public clarification about the Refuse option.
- This request was made after some of us decided to use Refuse option to draw attention to certain issues5 and on 06-07/05/2004 citizens from over a dozen places submitted letters to make this clarification and request6 a public statement in view of DEC’s press quote about “discard” and CEC’s earlier quote about “none-of-these”.
- In further clarification of objection to “none-of-these”, etc, my letter of 07.05.047 said, “I choose to interpret the “refuse to vote” option as an “all of these” one and before EC, besides NGOs and PIL, convert it to “none of these” or “discard” I would like to know why I should either discard my vote or reject all candidates – my constituency has, I understand, 28 and, given the current manner of information dissemination, I know nothing of any consequence to me about all but 2 to 4 of them and am loathe to reject even the others or discard my vote in some disgust. That would tantamount to saying that I have no confidence in the capability of my democracy to throw up candidates I consider capable of representing me and that I also consider myself incapable of anything more than disgust. I am not even remotely inclined to make such a ludicrous statement through my vote… EC officials themselves seem unaware / unclear about the procedure and it may well be that I arrive at my polling booth to refuse to vote and my Presiding Officer refuses to let me refuse to vote, in which case I will either need your cell phone number or to create a scene, neither of which would be good for free and fair polling at my booth”
- EC did not issue a public statement and we did what we could and on polling day8 (10/05/2004) the Refuse option was exercised in two-dozen places across Delhi. At only one the polling officer was aware of the procedure and at one more that the provision existed. In all others electors had to point these out (and EC confirmed that instructions to polling officers do not cover this). In four places polling officers searched for Form-17A. In two places they refused to sign the Refuse entry. In one place an elector refusing to vote was refused ink mark. Nowhere could the option be exercised unobtrusively. In one place it was misunderstood as attempt to booth-capture. In one (where the municipal election was “won” by Delhi Master Plan through proxy candidate and from where request for steps for unobtrusive refusal was specifically made on 07/05/2004) there was intimidation, call about which to EC returned the advise to stay home.
I do not think we are in any position to say the Refuse option (not reducible to a Reject option) cannot suffice for purposes of the “right to not vote” or needs any more than the “Invalidate” option on EVMs. If anonymous “none-of-these” is added in the voting procedure, I propose (for logical rigour in the range of options) an accompanying revised nomenclature of Refuse option to “all-of-these”, with rules to ensure that the two are publicized equally.
I hope I will not have to file an intervention for consideration of these issues and look forward to your views on them.
With regards and Republic Day greetings
Gita Dewan Verma, Planner
- Mr Milon Bannerjee, Attorney General, Supreme Court, Bhagwan Das Rd, New Delhi - 110001
- Dr S Muralidhar, counsel for EC, 283 Supreme Enclave, Mayur Vihar Ph.I, New Delhi -110091
- Mr Sanjay Parikh, counsel for PUCL, M-113 Saket, New Delhi - 110017
- AZ-Plan web-post, for information especially of those who exercised the Refuse option
- 1. Voters can say 'no' on ballot papers: EC
NEW DELHI: The Election Commission which is the sole authority to conduct free and fair poll in the country has joined the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in demanding that electorate must have a right to cast "negative vote" so as to enable him to say that none of the candidates in fray were worth his vote.
EC's counsel Dr S Murlidhar told a Bench of Chief Justice R C Lahoti and Justice G P Mathur the key election body had written to the Centre twice-- 2001 and 2004-- seeking amendments to the Representation of People Act so that provision could be made in the ballot papers and the electronic voting machines (EVMs) allowing casting of negative vote by a voter.
http://www1.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/999975.cms (Retrieved 19th August, 2013)
- 2. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000081.html
- 3. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000082.html
- 4. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000086.html
- 5. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000085.html
- 6. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000087.html
- 7. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000088.html
- 8. source: http://mail.architexturez.net/pipermail/mpisgmedia/2004-May/000089.html